RSS Syndication

Subscribe to my RSS Feed!
feed image


Baptism PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, August 10 2004 19:00
Perhaps the babies themselves realized that theirs was a good baptism because they did not cry very much, even when the water was poured over their head. The five of them seemed to enter into the spirit of the liturgy held last Sunday afternoon at St. Michael’s Church in North Andover. These infants did remarkably little fussing during the 45 minute rite of baptism that symbolically introduced them into the life of faith.

Some parents prefer a ceremony in which theirs is the only child baptized. However, as this group baptism showed, having several children presented for this rite has the advantage of revealing baptism as a shared ritual whereby each child enters into the worldwide community of faith.

The diversity of the people of God thus appears more vividly when baptism is shared among several families. Members of the congregation see how the faith community is made up of all kinds of people, sharers in the same beliefs but otherwise very different. Rich and poor, white people and those of color, older and younger, all benefit from God’s gifts.

Though on this occasion I knew only one child, my 6-month old grand-nephew who was christened Luke Vincent, I found myself entering into the entire ceremony as an involved worshipper. Credit for this shared feeling of involvement belongs, in large part, to Father John Delaney, one of the clergy serving St. Michael’s parish.

Father Delaney, a native of Lawrence, skillfully managed to hold the attention of family members, friends, and others who had gathered for the christening. Throughout the ceremony he stressed God’s love as the dominant theme of the event. Never did he mention hell, a staple of such services in the old days, but instead he emphasized the love expressed by the sacrament of baptism.

He also explained the sacramental meaning of baptism. Sacraments are external signs that express the graceful action of God on the soul and body of human beings. In the case of baptism, these signs involve materials as well as gestures: water, which signifies life in the Hebrew Bible as well as in the New Testament, and oil, an ancient symbol of strength.

More informally, Father Delaney also stressed the responsibilities and privileges belonging to godparents. In the modern world, this role tends to suffer neglect; but, as Father Delaney pointed out, a godparent can play an immensely important function in the life or a child, and even of an adult.

A godparent can be supportive in great and small ways: remembering birthdays, attending soccer games and school plays, sharing in birthdays and other major celebrations. On the day of baptism, the godparents begin this process, holding candles to symbolize the child’s new life, and draping the traditional white garment (made by members of the parish) over the child’s festive clothes.

Taking part on Sunday in the baptism of my grand nephew put me in mind of my own baptism. Fortunately, family archives have preserved a book of childhood remembrances that details that ceremony. It took place at St. John’s Church in Peabody on September 12, 1928, a date that is beginning to seem quite far back in history.

My godparents were my father’s brother and my mother’s sister, people for whom I came to have strong affection. The priest who baptized me was my father’s uncle, Father John Griffin, then pastor of a church in Holyoke.

My reason for recalling this event of long ago is to recall the beginnings of my own spiritual life. That pouring of water over my head signaled an inner life in the Spirit that has led to a richness that I regard as a precious gift. Baptism started me on a life that has inner meaning, even when the inevitable difficulties of human life have pressed upon my body and soul.

Watching Luke Vincent and the other children receive the sacrament that has brought them into the faith community stirred in me feelings of hope for their spiritual life. I wish for them, their parents, godparents, other family members, and friends, blessings that may lead to years full of love.

May these children grow into fine human beings, true to the grace of their baptism and happy to acknowledge God’s continuing love for them.

Richard Griffin